Games I Own: Freedom Force

Written by Joe Martin

February 2, 2010 // 10:54 a.m.

Tags: #cheap #classic #comic #freedom-force #games-i-own #irrational-games #nazis #retro #rpg #steam-sale #superhero

I only bought the Freedom Force games – both the original and the sequel Freedom Force vs The Third Reich – fairly recently, though I annoyingly timed it just before the recent Steam £2 deal. It was a series I’d often heard lauded as a great tactical RPG to play if you like comics, but I’d never really gotten around to trying it until a few weeks ago.

I don’t totally regret the decision to buy the game, but the fact that I have to mention this up front probably hints clearly at how unsatisfied I am with the game.

What Freedom Force is, is an incredibly tongue-in-cheek game inspired mainly by 1930s comics, as oppose to the modern Marvel and DC conglomerates. It focuses on a series of characters who get exposed to an alien weapon called Energy X which accidentally rains down on the planet as part of an overly convoluted alien plan to take over Earth. The exposed humans subsequently manifest super powers, dividing fairly equally into heroes and villains. The heroes, championed by the ultra-American hero Minuteman, form into Freedom Force and go around fighting evil.
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From thereon in the game is fairly predictable, with plenty of nice flourishes which help make it more than the sum of its parts. It’s a top-down tactical RPG, so you control up to four heroes as they beat up minions, using their abilities as you will and working your way towards the super villain. Then you kick his ass. At the end of every mission you usually unlock an extra hero to use in the future.

Games I Own: Freedom Force
Freedom Force, Unite!

The heroes themselves are the best part of the game, with hidden characters that you have to unlock with saved up Prestige Points sitting in the background while the main characters push to the front. Most heroes come with a cutscene intro explaining their Secret Origin in a comic book layout too, which helps pull the presentation together into a major appeal of the game. The characters are numerous and diverse too, with power-based characters like Human Torch analogue Inferno sitting next to strength and skill based options like Iron Ox and Arrow. Strong characters can pick up cars, people, buildings and props to wield too, making the levels a natural resource for you.

Where the game falls down though is in two very specific areas; the balancing and the missions themselves.

First, the balancing. Freedom Force is a very tough game, both when it comes to completing levels and in the wider sense of unlocking new content and mastering the UI. There’s little explanation given of how different damage types (of which there are many) work or what benefits you explicitly gain from levelling up an attribute. How much strength do you need to lift a bus compared to a car, for example?

The actual difficulty is quite high too, which means you never really feel like a superhero unless you’re a pro player. A flame controlling, flying, Spanish wizard would, you’d think, be able to deal with gun-toting thugs easily. In Freedom Force though it’s far too easy for you to be swamped by low-level grunts, especially since accuracy is HEAVILY affected by distance, so powerful ranged attacks often actually only hit at punching distance. The game too often swamps you with enemies too, while your available weapons are fairly slim. Personally, I’d prefer to have only 10 heroes with 10 powers or abilities, not 40 heroes with 4 skills.

Games I Own: Freedom Force
Deploy sound effect in 3, 2...1!

What really killed Freedom Force for me though (and which has prevented me from finishing the first or trying the second game beyond the tutorial) is the lack of real progress. The first few levels focus on defeating Minuteman’s rival, the Russian Nuclear Winter. You chase him, corner him, pummel him and he goes into jail. It’s all wrapped up in about six levels and then you’re straight onto the next villain – but all that really accounts for is a increasingly brief and repetitive cycle with a new character that you don’t know.

Nuclear Winter feels like a good bad guy because he is introduced at the start of the game and is established as an immediate opposite to the hero of the game, Minuteman. All the other baddies though feel like the developer has just said “Oh, and there’s this other baddie too.” You suddenly find yourself a succession of villains who aren’t really attached to a central plot and who don’t bear any special bond to the cast and who you therefore don’t really care about. They just pop up and you knock them down and none of them are especially interesting.

Freedom Force, because of the high difficulty and low emotional pay-off (and apparent no end in sight), rapidly started to feel like a grind for me. In many ways that was good though – I’d only been using it to fill the time until something better came a long, but since the game was recently discounted I thought I may as well see if anyone else had had similar impressions.

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